WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- Maybe you've taken evasive action because another driver was more interested in thumbing away on his phone than what's happening on the road.
Maybe you've been in a vehicle where the driver kept his eyes more on his mobile device than the 18-wheeler slamming on its brakes just ahead.
Or, maybe you're the culprit -- too busy selecting the correct emoticon after texting "OMG, YOLO, LOL," instead of reacting to the keiki chasing a ball into the street.
The state and the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii agree that texting is banned, period, when operating a motor vehicle. Furthermore, any use of mobile devices is banned for drivers less than 18 years. Getting caught while texting yields a hefty fine.
Changes to the law were enacted about a year ago, and the fines for being caught driving while "intexticated" are steep.
As incidents of distracted drivers have grown, the state has levied fines of at least $100 to not more than $200, with heavier fines between $300-500 for repeat offenses.
According to the Hawaii Police Department's Traffic Services Section, the fine increased to $297, July 1, 2014.
As parents and children look to the new school year, beginning Wednesday, and the Department of Transportation works to improve the highways and byways, drivers should be aware of an extra $10 tacked on to the fine if caught texting in a school or construction zone.
The Army Safety Program (AR 385-10) clarifies that texting, as well as other uses of hand-held devices, is prohibited. U.S. Army-Hawaii Regulation 190-5 echoes this, but doesn't specifically reference texting. It does list degrees of penalties of operating a cell phone while driving for the first offense and repeat offenses, ranging from a 30-day suspension of on-post driving privileges to a year.
"Nationally, texting and driving is an acknowledged problem, but it is not in the National Accident database, as there was no data field to collect the data," said Bill Maxwell, safety officer, 311th Signal Command (Theater). "Unless it's recorded in the accident narrative, it never happened. The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency is working this and will create new means to collect the data."
In addition to texting, state law goes further to include games, cameras, computers and more that are strictly verboten when driving. A vehicle's GPS guidance system and CD player radio pretty much sum up what is permitted.
Maxwell notes the Europeans have been working the distracted driver issue for years.
"It's illegal to open a bottle of water while behind the wheel in many countries. Drivers' actions are limited to controlling the vehicle and operating the radio," said Maxwell. "That's why there are no cup holders in many European-spec vehicles."
Army Regulation 385-10 Hand-Held Device Use
Vehicle operators on DOD installations and operators of Government-owned vehicles, on or off the installation, will not use cellular phones or other hand-held electronic devices unless the vehicle is safely parked or they are using a hands-free device.
This prohibition includes text messaging using hand-held devices.
Government-supplied electronic equipment that may be used for text messaging or other hand-held uses is prohibited for use by DOD personnel while driving any vehicle, whether or not on official Government business.
The only exceptions to this prohibition are emergency responders (such as military police, ambulance, fire emergency, EOD and HAZMAT responders) while in the performance of their official duties.